A San Francisco-based tech business leader says Africa has the potential to create a new wave of global software entrepreneurs, writes MATTHEW LE CORDEUR.
Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen told Fin24 in a News24Live interview that software and Africa are going to be a very interesting combination in the future.
“Africa will play a very incredible role in future politics on the global scene,” he said. “As a continent, I think it has a lot of potential.”
He said the economic centre of gravity will need to take into account the large population in Africa as 50% of productive people between the ages 18 and 60 will be in Africa by 2040. “That is an incredible fact,” he said.
In 2008, Lyseggen launched the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (Mest) and the Mest Incubator programme in Ghana, which provides training, investment and mentoring for aspiring technology entrepreneurs. His goal is to create globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa.
Training software entrepreneurs for Africa
“Initially my passion in Africa was purely philanthropic, so we wanted to create a school for software entrepreneurs and help talent,” he said. “Coming to Africa, I realised the incredible potential this continent has.
“Software is an industry where you require very limited upfront investment and all you need is a computer for a few hundred bucks,” he explained. “Software can be written anywhere. All you need is talent, drive, imagination.
“I have been to Africa more than 50 times since 2007 and I see so much talent and I see so many driven people and there is no question in my mind that all the up-and-coming youth in Africa are going to make a big impact also in the software space.”
Sourced from top graduates in Ghana and Nigeria, 30 of the Entrepreneurs-In-Training are selected each year to attend at Mest and receive comprehensive training across the spectrum of skills required to build successful tech businesses, including computer programming, software development, product management, finance, marketing, sales and leadership best practices.
Lyseggen said entrepreneurship is very hard. “It’s very taxing. For many it means you go from hand-to-mouth and you make very little money for many years,” he said.
“For some other people they will start out successfully. If you want to go into entrepreneurship, I think it’s a very good thing and I encourage everyone to do it, … but you need to embrace that it is not going to be a picnic.”
The perfect employee
When recruiting employees to work at Meltwater, Lyseggen said he looks for inspiring people who are ambitious, talented, driven and capable. “But also positive people who are fun to hang around and also have a good heart, good values and good integrity,” he said.
People who have managed to break through at an early age are key to this type of employee. “We have people who are classically trained pianists… [and] others who are exceptional in sport,” he said.
“So, we have national or international champions in swimming, cycling, running, skiing [and] we have three Olympians in the company, we have a world champion fly fisher in the company.
“One time I hired a Chinese girl who was number three in the world in Street Fighter 2 – the game. We believe it says something about who you are. Whatever you put your mind to, you will probably be very successful.”
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”